Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Film Review: LOOSE CANNONS (1990, Bob Clark)

Stars: ? of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Tag-line: "A comedy with personality... lots of them."
Notable Cast or Crew: Gene Hackman (THE CONVERSATION, UNFORGIVEN), Dan Aykroyd (DOCTOR DETROIT, GHOSTBUSTERS, DRIVING MISS DAISY), Dom DeLuise (THE CANNONBALL RUN, MUNCHIE), Ronny Cox (ROBOCOP, TOTAL RECALL, DELIVERANCE), Robert Prosky (CHRISTINE, LAST ACTION HERO, GREMLINS 2), Paul Koslo (VANISHING POINT, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, ROBOT JOX), Leon Rippy (STARGATE, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER), David Alan Grier (IN LIVING COLOR, JUMANJI), Tobin Bell ("Jigsaw" in the SAW movies), Bill Fagerbakke (Mick Garris' THE STAND, SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS).  Music by Paul Zaza (PROM NIGHT, PORKY'S).  Written by Richard Matheson (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, I AM LEGEND, THE TWILIGHT ZONE), Richard Christian Matheson (THREE O' CLOCK HIGH, AMAZING STORIES), and Bob Clark (BLACK CHRISTMAS, A CHRISTMAS STORY, PORKY'S).
Best One-liner: "Humpty Dumpty's back on the wall!"

How do we imagine our art will be digested?  At the perfect time and place, by the perfect audience?  When I was eleven years old, I watched AMERICAN GRAFFITI, because I loved George Lucas and his STAR WARS.  I liked it, but didn't really get it.  I wasn't old enough.  Saw it again when I was nineteen.  I was beginning to understand.  Take Noah Baumbach's KICKING AND SCREAMING: it's a film about listless college graduates entering the real world.  I rented it with my friends, on VHS, the last week of college before commencement.  We loved it, but I didn't realize how hard it could hit until I watched it four months later, scraping along in a dirty, rented room.  I don't think they should assign THE GREAT GATSBY to high school kids.  I don't think you can properly unravel it until you've had a dream and tried to chase it.
Naturally, all of this begs the question: when is the proper time to watch LOOSE CANNONS?

LOOSE CANNONS purports to be a loose and zany collection of scenes arranged into a buddy cop comedy involving split personalities.

Indeed, the film itself suffers from multiple personality disorder: it is produced by Aaron Spelling and René Dupont; the former built a television empire founded on garish, bourgeois romantic fantasy (THE LOVE BOAT, MELROSE PLACE, DYNASTY, BEVERLY HILLS 90210, SUNSET BEACH, etc.) and the latter produced films for Charles Chaplin and Stanley Kubrick (A KING IN NEW YORK and LOLITA, respectively).  It is written by horror/sci-fi legend Richard Matheson (who wrote some of the best TWILIGHT ZONES and serious novels like SOMEWHERE IN TIME and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME) and his son, Richard Christian Matheson.  It is directed and co-written by Bob Clark, who brought us family fare like A CHRISTMAS STORY, teen sex comedies like PORKY'S, holiday slashers like BLACK CHRISTMAS, and indescribable musical trainwrecks like RHINESTONE.  It stars an A-list dramatic actor (Gene Hackman) and a (then) A-list comedic actor (Dan Aykroyd).

It co-stars Dom DeLuise and an entire battery of "that guy!" character actors from gritty crime flicks of the 70s and 80s.  It features a soundtrack from Paul Zaza, who oversaw the horror-disco-sanity of PROM NIGHT.  The plot involves Nazi sex tapes and S&M and one-liners and mental illness––hey, what is this, anyway?  Who was this made for?  Who was meant to digest it? And when? 

In 1990, Siskel and Ebert described it as "the cop-buddy comedy that hits new lows in an undisputed field."  It was a financial failure, recouping only $5 million of a $15 million budget.  In 2015, it holds a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.  As far as I know, it has not secured a cult following in the interim, even among bad movie aficionados.  For twenty-five years, unmoored, adrift, LOOSE CANNONS has not found its audience.  It has not yet discovered its proper time and place.  How does one judge such a film?  I'm not even quite sure it is a film; it may very well be a ghost on the haunt.

Gene Hackman's cat is named "Camus."  Dan Aykroyd is afraid to go to an S&M club, "not that I'm a Trudy Prudy or anything like that."

Do we blame this for EXIT TO EDEN

The club has go-go dancers wearing KISS-style body paint and this is distressing to Dan Aykroyd.

Aykroyd says "I always annoy people.  I don't mean to."  It is something of an understatement.

At different points throughout the film, Aykroyd "becomes" The Road Runner, Scotty for STAR TREK, The Cowardly Lion, and The Wicked Witch.  It is explained that he is only this way because he was tortured by a Columbian named "Armando."

We, however, were tortured by a Canadian named Aykroyd?

Aykroyd and Hackman drive around in a battered old station wagon full of kitty litter.

 "I have a hole in my ass."  ––"That's why they call you an asshole!"
 
Later, the station wagon smashes into a stack of crates filled with chickens.

 Gene Hackman wields a blunderbuss.
 
Dom DeLuise appears, looking like latter-day Orson Welles, wearing a King of Hearts costume

and, later, vests made from the upholstery of grandmothers' couches.

He exclaims "They're fucking with the wrong Jew this time!"

This is because he's involved in a international conspiracy searching for a snuff/pornographic/ritual sex-suicide film starring Adolf Hitler and the guy (Robert Prosky) who's going to be the next German chancellor.


"I saw a movie, XXX-style, only this one starred Hitler and a couple of other guys!" 

Paul Koslo plays a Nazi, who waves a gun around and does Nazi things.

Ronny Cox plays an FBI handler, who sure has his hands full with these two.

David Alan Grier shows up and tries to pretend he's not actually in the movie.

"How do you know the killer's German," asks Gene Hackman.  "Because there's no peepee hole on the boxers," says Dan Aykroyd.

Dom DeLuise is rolled around in a wheelchair.  This is supposed to make us smile because he is a fat man.  It actually makes us smile because Dom DeLuise is a warm and sympathetic human being who inspires warm feelings everywhere he goes.

We begin to wonder if GHOSTBUSTERS would have been insufferable if it didn't also have Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson.

"Let me know if you ever find yourself, kid, cause I'd love to meet you," says Gene Hackman.

And somewhere between it's first and ninety-fourth minute, the film ends.  What was it?  I 'm not sure.  It all happened so fast, officer...

So when and where was LOOSE CANNONS' proper time and place?  If I had watched it on some other evening, at some other point in my life, would it have really "clicked" with me?  For all I know, this film is a triggering device for some as-of-yet-unhatched MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE-style plot, and that's it's proper time and place.  Or perhaps it was Calgary in 2013, when frames from a discarded reel of LOOSE CANNONS were discovered in a Canadian landfill, prompting an employee to believe he'd stumbled upon the remains of an actual snuff film.  It was finally determined to be a staged murder when Calgary police realized the man doing the murdering was Dan Aykroyd.

His name cleared, Aykroyd said "The movie should have been left in the landfill where it belongs."

Perhaps that is it's time and place.  This impossible confluence of writers, actors, and producers––arthouse, grindhouse, and studio system alike––converging on a genre that was mostly played out by 1990, on a film that was seen and loved by almost no one.  Rotting away, unseen, unsung...  Perhaps this landfill copy of LOOSE CANNONS, this temporary piece of crime scene evidence, ought to be screened as-is, DECASIA-style, as an art installation piece reminding us of this fine line between fiction and non-fiction, between sanity and madness.  What's the half-life of celluloid?  We'd better screen it while there's still something left, before we can no longer properly loop the reel across the spools and project.  Maybe the cannons are loose, not because they're a hot-doggin' cop and his mentally ill partner; maybe they're loose because the cannons are fleeting, life is fleeting, the cannons are slip, slipping away.

LOOSE CANNONS, ladies and gentlemen.

–Sean Gill

7 comments:

Cannon said...

Now, since it has been some indiscernible span of time between today and, oh, let's just say, whatever afternoon I last watched this on commercial-break cable circa vaguely early 90s, I can only assume that, in the one screenshot with DAG, his character and Hackman's have, under whatever attempted-comedic circumstance, switched tops, as it is Hackman donning an open gray blazer over casual tee that in fact Hackman would never wear for any other reason on or off camera, while DAG himself dons Hackman's 'common man' Redskins bomber jacket.

This may seem plain enough to anyone having just watched the movie but, as presented visually in your review, on its own terms sans any footnote, the image sequencing is oddly jarring: Hackman in costume (as even the poster establishes) until, briefly and all the sudden, he looks like he's getting ready to do standup ...and then back in burgundy again. Maybe that was intentional on your part.

Try not to be too hard on Aykroyd. This was that weird decade turnover phase of his struggling marquee career when he was zigzagging form consummately supporting dramatic roles in films like Driving Miss Daisy and My Girl to the prepackaged studio shenanigans of My Stepmother is an Alien and the truly auteur, batshit insanity-vanity project that was Nothing but Trouble. In other words, the guy was sorta in the wilderness at this point. I for one don't blame him for taking a stab at the buddy cop formula. Shit, man, they can't all be Dreyfuss and Estevez.

For perhaps a better perspective, or just plain symmetry, watch Cops & Robbersons with Chevy Chase opposite Jack Palance. Or don't, and just take my word for it.

Mike Bradley said...

As always, I applaud you for making this effort! I do vaguely recall renting this from the video store and watching it with my parents when I was about 13. I remember NOTHING of the movie, but I do think we all chuckled a bit. Maybe its time and place was just to be video store filler, for when the "good" movies were all checked out. Or maybe we'll never know...

Cannon said...

Oh, and one other thing: You're not allowed to reference in parentheses the films of actor Paul Koslo without listing Robot Jox. It's against the rules.

Filed in the back of my brain, this error didn't come to my attention until some 14 hours after having read your review, while walking down the street in the middle of the night—I ran back home promptly to post said correction.

John W said...

It amuses me no end whenever this film comes up (and I myself have seen it too, on some evening lost to the mists of time) that the search for a Nazi/Hitler sex tape is also the plot line in Don DeLillo's mega-serious RUNNING DOG.

Sean Gill said...

Cannon,
Indeed you are right––and I had hoped the screencaps of the magical switching jacket would trigger MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE-level neurological manipulations. Perhaps I'm too hard on Aykroyd, but then again, maybe I'm still reeling from DOCTOR DETROIT. I never saw COPS & ROBBERSONS, though my "on deck" terrible buddy movie is A GNOME NAMED GNORM. In regard to ROBOT JOX, I have corrected this egregious error. I will now quote the tag-line of ROBOT JOX: "Two Men! Two Machines! Too Wild!"

Mike B.,
Glad you enjoyed! A number of my friends had a similar experience with LOOSE CANNONS, seeming to border on "accidental rental."

John W.,
That's fantastic!––I'm not very familiar with early DeLillo, but the idea that its some kind of literary homage/pastiche as well only adds another layer of schizophrenic weirdness.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

This one rivals Doctor Detroit for "what the fuck were they thinking?" points. Akroyd made some weird films in his stint in hollywood....some were hits...some were Loose Cannons. haha...I guess they were going for a Lethal Weapon 2 type of thing with the whole political angle...but god...Aykroyd and Hackman don't have any chemistry at all! Who thought of this match up? By the way, I've never seen this one...but I remember seeing the box at the video club, back when video clubs existed...

Sean Gill said...

Francisco,

Thanks for stoppin' by! Definitely––one of the weirdest head-scratchers to see a mainstream release, and seemingly tailor-made for the "almost" or "accidental" rental.